My parents divorced when I was 16, but they had a drawn out and confusing separation that began when I was 11. The divorce felt like a relief, because at least there was finality in that agreement. I was in therapy in my early and mid-20s when my therapist concluded I had issues with anxiety and depression, noting that my issues stemmed from not properly dealing with my parents divorce. I thought I had dealt with all the baggage, but no one tells you that the issues you have as a child only resurface when you have your own.
Children of divorce each carry their own particular suitcase of luggage. The size of the load often depends on the details of the relationship your parents had, the aftermath of the divorce, and whatever relationship you’ve had with your parents since. But you all wonder: How can you have a healthy relationship if your parents didn’t have one? I want to be with my son’s father forever for many reasons, one of them being that I never want my child to experience a separation like I did. But how could I prevent that from happening when we inevitably repeat the things we have seen whether we mean to or not? How will we avoid the same fate?
When I found out I was pregnant, I wanted everything to be perfect. I needed to control little things because there was so much out of my control. I knew all too well what happened when things went wrong, and I was determined to do them right. I stayed up late perusing websites in search of the perfect crib, the perfect stroller system, the safest car seat. I absorbed every parenting article and book I could get my hands on. I was convinced I wouldn’t make the same mistakes my parents made. It didn’t matter if I had an imperfect childhood, I’d make sure that my child had the perfect one. But I failed to consider that our baby would be born to two imperfect people.
After I gave birth, I treated every interaction with my newborn with intense scrutiny. When my partner and I had the inevitable arguments all new parents have, I panicked that we were causing harm to him, harm from which he’d never recover. I had been planning all along to heal my own wounds by giving my children a perfect life, the one I never had, one full of Pinterest-worthy birthday parties, picture-perfect moments, and zero conflict.
Instead, I had to accept that when the central relationship in your childhood fractures, it creates an irreparable wound, a sense of loss you carry deep in your heart. I wanted to heal my own inner child by giving my child the things I yearned for when I was his age, things like parents who didn’t fight. I see now that things that my parents went through — financial uncertainty, large extended families, and children from prior relationships — are hard on any couple. Disagreements are part of being in a committed relationship, and raising children adds enormous pressure to a relationship. Knowing this, I now allow myself bad moments, and if we argue in front of my son and stepdaughter, we make sure we resolve the issues so that they see that conflict resolution and forgiveness are also part of relationships. Knowing this, I show myself and my children that being vulnerable is also acceptable.
I can be a child of divorce, a good parent, and a loving partner. The three aren’t mutually exclusive ideas — and being a child of divorce doesn’t mean I’m headed for doom solely because my parents were. I’ve used my parents’ mistakes and failures to guide my own. What can I do differently for my son? How can we be better partners? My partner and I no longer pretend everything is OK when it’s not, simply because we know better — I know better — and because yes, children are resilient, but no, they’re not dumb. I’ve learned to prioritize my relationships, because being happy as individuals and as a couple is one the best things you can do for our children, for each other, and for myself. I am not your parents. Their mistakes are not mine mistakes. Their stories aren’t mine.
Learning this has freed me in so many ways.
Being a child of divorce has also enriched my life. I know that love isn’t a guarantee and that it needs to be nurtured often. My life would be different without the divorce, surely, but I cannot say it’d be any better. I know that one day I can tell my son that even though his grandma and grandpa fell out of love with each other they never failed to love me or him as best as they could. They were not perfect, and I won’t be perfect either, but I want him to know that often times, the ties that bind us are stronger than the pain we carry.
Images: Courtesy of Betsy Aimee (3)